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HOME: STATE OF WORLD POPULATION 2005: Journalists' Press Kit
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Adolescents Fact Sheet

Adolescents: 10-19 year olds (early adolescence 10-14 and late adolescence 15-19)

Youth: 15-24 year olds

Young People: 10-24 year olds

Today's generation of young people is the largest in history. Nearly half of the world's population (almost 3 billion people) is under the age of 25.

Over 500 million youth live on less than $2 per day. Some 238 million, or 22.5 per cent of the world's youth live in extreme poverty, on less than $1 dollar per day. 1

About 85 per cent of the world's youth live in developing countries. Asia alone is home to 70 per cent of the developing world's young people.

The poorest, least developed countries tend to have the largest shares of young people as a proportion of their populations.

The State of the World's Children, 2005. New York: UNICEF.

While for many, adolescence is a time to learn and grow in nurturing environments, for others — especially those living in poverty — it is a time of heightened risks: Many drop out of school to help with family survival, or face violence, sexual abuse or HIV infection. For those caught in conflict situations, or for the 15 million orphaned by AIDS or others living on the streets, the risks are magnified many times over. For adolescent girls, these risks can be especially acute because of discrimination, limited access to education, harmful practices such as female genital cutting/mutilation and child marriage, early pregnancy and other reproductive health problems.

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Adolescent reproductive health

Many adolescent girls are obliged to abandon their schooling because they become married or pregnant. Every year, some 14 million adolescent girls (15-19) give birth. 2 Uncounted others have babies at even younger ages, while one quarter to one half of adolescent girls in developing countries are mothers before they are 18. 3

The highest rates of adolescent fertility are found in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. 4 Based on data from 56 countries, girls aged 15 to 19 from the poorest groups are three times more likely than their better-off peers to give birth in adolescence, and bear twice as many children. 5 They are also two to five times as likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than women in their twenties, 6 and their babies are less likely to survive as well.

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Gender-based violence and young women

Younger women and adolescent girls are especially vulnerable to gender-based violence.

Nearly 50 per cent of all sexual assaults worldwide are against girls 15 years or younger. 7

High numbers of young women report that their first sexual experience was coerced. 8

In the Caribbean, this figure is estimated at 48 per cent of young women. 9 Studies in Jamaica, Mali, Tanzania and Zimbabwe found that between 20 and 30 per cent of adolescent girls had experienced sexual violence. 10

Forced sexual relations are especially likely within the context of child marriage. 11

In Burundi, the UNFPA-supported NGO centres offering support for victims of sexual violence found that 88 per cent of the women seeking care in 2004 were young women. 12

In Thailand, intimate partner violence is a leading cause of death for women and girls between the ages of 15 and 24. 13

Sexual coercion is now considered a significant factor in the continuing rise of HIV among young women. 14

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Youth and unemployment

A large and skilled population of young people entering their most productive years can give a powerful boost to development. Large numbers of poorly educated young people without employment prospects, on the other hand, is a recipe for continued poverty, inequality and civil unrest. 15

Of the 185 million people unemployed in the world, approximately half are between the ages of 15 and 24. 16

While work affords some the opportunity to earn, learn and develop new skills, many others are trapped in low-wage, low-skill sectors with few opportunities to advance or to escape poverty:

Some 352 million people between the ages 5-17 were estimated to be working in 2000, 171 million of them in hazardous situations. 17

The challenge of youth unemployment is compounded where their numbers are still rapidly growing – namely in poor countries of Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East.

In 6 out of 9 developing regions, unemployment rates are higher among young women than among young men. 18

The gender gap is particularly evident in Northern Africa and Southern Asia, and it has widened during the decade 1993-2003.

Data from sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Asia show higher unemployment for young men than young women. In the rest of the developing world, the situation is reversed. However, the relatively lower rates for women do not always reflect the availability of productive work opportunities: In sub-Saharan Africa, a larger number of women work in subsistence agriculture, low-income jobs in smallholdings, or in other forms of unpaid and informal work. 19

Source: United Nations. 2005. The Millennium Development Goals Report, 2005 . New York: United Nations.

Many of those who begin working in adolescence or as young children are subject to abuse and exploitation: Impoverished girls are more likely to be sent to work as domestic servants in strangers' homes, at risk of sexual abuse and exploitation.

UNICEF estimates that five million children work as domestic servants in South Asia. This includes roughly one in five children under 14 in India.

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1United Nations. 2004. World Youth Report 2005: Report of the Secretary-General (A/60/61-E/2005/7). New York: United Nations.
2 UNFPA. 2004. State of the World Population: The Cairo Consensus at Ten: Population, Reproductive Health and the Global Effort to End Poverty. New York: United Nations.
3 UNFPA. 2003. The State of World Population 2003: Making One Billion Count: Investing in Adolescents' Health and Rights . New York: United Nations. Cited in: UN Millennium Project. 2005. Taking Action: Achieving Gender Equality and Empowering Women . New York: Task Force on Education and Gender Equality, UN Millennium Project; and UNFPA 2003. UNFPA and Young People: Imagine. New York: UNFPA.
4 UN Millennium Project. 2005. Taking Action: Achieving Gender Equality and Empowering Women . New York: Task Force on Education and Gender Equality, UN Millennium Project.
5 The World Bank. 2004. “Round II Country Reports on Health,m Nutrition, and Population Conditions Among the Poor and the Better-Off in 56 Countries.” Washington, D.C.: The World Bank. Wesbite: www1.worldbank.org/prem/poverty/health/data/round2.htm; and Rani, M., and E. Lule. 2004. “Exploring the Socioeconomic Dimensions of Adolescent Reproductive Health: A Multicountry Analysis.” International Family Planning Perspectives 30(3):112.
6 United Nations. 2001. We the Children: End-Decade Review of the Follow-Up to the World Summit for Children: Report of the Secretary-General (A/S-27/3). New York: United Nations.
7 UNFPA. 2003. UNFPA and Young People, Imagine 2003
8 Krug EG et al., eds. 2002. World Report on Violence and Health. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization.
9 UN Millennium Project. 2005. Taking Action: Achieving Gender Equality and Empowering Women . New York: Task Force on Education and Gender Equality, UN Millennium Project
10 Jejeebhoy in casu Mensch, B., J. Bruce, and M. E. Greene. 1998. The Uncharted Passage: Girls' Adolescence in the Developing World . New York: The Population Council.
11 UNICEF. 2001. Early Marriage: Child Spouses. Innocenti Digest. No. 7. Florence, Italy: UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre. Available at: http://www.unicef-icdc.org/publications/pdf/digest7e.pdf .
12 UNFPA Burundi Country Office, Annual Report 2004
13 2003, Sexual Coercion among women in Thailand: Results from WHO multi-country study on women's health and life experiences , New Delhi meeting, Population Council
14 The Global Coalition on Women and AIDS. “Violence against Women: Critical Intersections: Intimate Partner Violence and HIV/AIDS” Information Bulletin Series, Number 1.
15 UNFPA. 2005. The Case for Investing in Young People as Part of a National Poverty Reduction Strategy . New York: United Nations.
16 Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Statistics Division. Progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, 1990-2005. Available at: http://unstats.un.org/unsd/mi/goals_2005/goal_8.pdf .
17 Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Statistics Division. Progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, 1990-2005. Available at: http://unstats.un.org/unsd/mi/goals_2005/goal_8.pdf .
18 United Nations. 2005. The Millennium Development Goals Report, 2005 . New York: United Nations.
19 Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Statistics Division. Progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, 1990-2005. Available at: http://unstats.un.org/unsd/mi/goals_2005/goal_8.pdf .
20 UNICEF. 11 June 2004. “Children Used as Domestic Servants One of the Most Hidden Forms of Child Labour.” Sydney, Australia: UNICEF. Available at: www.unicef.org.au/mediaCentre-Detail.asp?ReleaseID=534 .

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